Horses Safe at Home in Haywood

The following first appeared in The Brownsville Press (August 2023)

Most days, the horses of the ranch amble about their west Haywood County hills in search of sun, fresh grass, and the companionship of their herd mates. These nine horses, their donkey companion, and four wiry goats make up the contingent of creatures on the ranch.

Each animal here is a redemption story. Restored. Rehabilitated. Returned to life. Overcomers. In the Christian faith, overcomers are promised great rewards. This cast of creatures have paid enormously before their arrival here in Haywood.

Molly, for example, a small quarter horse mare, spent the first 10 years of her life in a dog pen before gaining her freedom. Despite her previous imprisonment, she’s exceedingly gentle, responds patiently to requests made of her, and is exceptionally kind to others in the herd.

Twix, another quarter horse mare and the herd’s leader, came from an area meat auction. Had she not found a home on the ranch, she’d likely been butchered. The same goes for Grace and Faith, two others that came from the same auction a year after we picked up Twix. When purchased, none of three seemed to have much to offer. Starved, ugly, and filthy, they quickly blossomed into full-bodied, clean, beautiful, and confident animals that contribute to the community.

Then there’s Boaz, a young wethered goat, that was rescued from a dog chain that kept him fastened to a tree for several months before his freedom was purchased.

Billy Bob, the donkey, was beat regularly with a 2×4 board before being rescued. He was feral upon his arrival. In time since, my 12-year-old daughter has gentled him, is able to touch and love on him with the children that visit the ranch.

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Snickers Chooses A Friend


During a recent visit to the ranch, a mother and father came for an advance look-see, to see how the gears turn here, get a lay of the land, and determine, I suppose, whether their kids would be safe here.

In other words, if little Home Safe Horses, cuddled in the back roads of Haywood County west Tennessee, is the real deal.

Whatever their impressions, their excitement and perhaps relief were palatable, after they disembarked from their Jeep after their accent up the driveway. That’s one of the surprising things about it here – the driveway relays visitors in a meandering manner up a hill and out of sight. From the entrance, no house nor barn are within sight. There’s a little mystery here when the horses are not present at the front of the property. Visitors often wonder if they are at the correct location, despite the welcome sign.

As we made our way from the house to the barn, this couple took in the sights – a meager orchard planted years ago, well past its prime; the duck coop that we built; the fenced yard in front of the barn that was completed recently; into the south side of the barn where the stalls are being built.

To the middle of the barn, where the building is divided and the horses stand as they attempt to avoid the heat and flies. It’s here we stand to take them in.

They are still and lounging in their silence except for their tails, which swat and swish the air to clear the flies. The smell of horses clung to the heavy, unmoving air.

The horses are calm, for the most part, unconcerned by our presence, so we watched, the couple taking them in. Until one moved. Snickers came to the gate, she wanted to say hello, so she did.

In the way that only Snickers can, her cautious meandering was led by curiosity. “How was this, who were these new humans,” she seemed to think aloud. While we watched, she made the rounds, which was actually here investigating the line of us as we watched and talked about them, the animals on the other side.

As Kristina and I discussed the children’s programs offered at the ranch with the woman who was curious for her kid’s sake, her husband remained silent, yet apart from the rest of us, close to Snickers. During the course of our conversation, lasting several minutes, Snickers and this man stood holding their own conversation. A silent one, where the only “words” exchanged were the soft touches by the man on the animal’s nose and her, in return, smelling the man’s hand and occasionally licking his fingers.

When the introduction came to a close, both man and animal stood opposite each other, silently assessing one another and seeming to understand their new friendship. Like souls connect without word or based on any previous history, the two seemed to find a peace within each other’s presence. A curiosity became a contentment of sorts, a peace in each other’s presence.

Finally, our worded conversation having reached its goal, we turned to the man and his new friend and watched.

After a few moments of silence, I or Kristina or our daughter said, “She chose you. Snickers chose you.”

There was glee and perhaps a bit of embarrassment at the noticed connection, but the man’s wife immediately began to tell the story of his late mother’s horse, which looked very much like Snickers. The resemblance between the two horses is uncanny, the couple confessed. “Doesn’t she look so much like Angel?” the wife said?

He seemed to settle into the same assessment, and for a moment seemed to recall his mother and the fondness only mother and child can know in each other. He seemed restored, maybe. A little less on edge than when he first arrived.

We prayed together and said our goodbyes, taking leave of each other with the promise of their brining their children to the ranch to experience the horses.

Life went on. A couple days later, the woman called to verify a time for her kids to come to the ranch, oh, how excited they were, but wait, there’s more to tell!

Since leaving the ranch and the presence of the horses, specifically Snickers, her husband has changed. Something is different about him, she claimed. He seems more at peace, but that’s not all. Never one to communicate through communication, since meeting Snickers, the man has been talkative and open with his wife about how he feels different and how he wants to come back to the ranch to visit Snickers.

How Snickers chose him. How Snickers might have seen something in him that only a horse can see. How a horse that most closely resembles his mother’s horse attached herself to him, as if to say hello for more than just herself.

How, perhaps, God wanted this man to know that he is loved and He chose to tell the man in the only way that he might have been able to hear and understand the power of those “words.”

A Part of The Herd (Eulogy For A Friend)

Not every horse becomes an indiscriminate part of its herd, aimlessly following along with the others just because they move about here or there. Even if there’s a pair of them that bond and sidle along side-by-side off to themselves, it’s quite rare for one of the herd to venture off alone, regularly, in search of his or her own pursuits, escaping the strength and protection of the clan.

Like most people, horses tend to stick together, finding solace in their community. While each member has a roll to fill in the collective, they befriend each other in unique ways, and bop along with their favorite counterpart most of the time. Sometimes they change pairings, but rarely do they splinter. Most always, horses are a collective caste.

They have a leader (here it’s Twix), and a descending order of clout down from the top. There is a first lieutenant (Snickers), who is clearly second in charge but never ahead of the leader. A second lieutenant is several rungs down the leadership ladder from the top horse and the first lieutenant, but still has clout within the group.  This horse (Angel) is among the last within the organized power structure, eating after the first two have secured their meals and usually is above the fray of chaos the remainder of the herd create as they romp and stab for order and power (and food).

From here, the remaining subverts of the herd usually fend for themselves. They never bother the herd leader, who always eats first and as much as she can inhale. The first and second lieutenant may have to raise their teeth or turn their rears to another horse that may come too close, but the others fray and bray, circle, and swarm the remaining bowls until they are pushed away by another horse that’s higher on the totem.

Sometimes (usually), there’s a horse too timid to stand or defend itself from the others. While this horse (here it’s Molly) may not be a pushover in the pasture, at feeding time, it can be better to separate this animal from the others to ensure it gets something to eat.

Other times, less often, there’s a horse that doesn’t belong within the structure of the horse economy. A lone flower in the meadow of petals. Beautiful on its own, but apart in its beauty, though not diminished by it’s lack of companionship. For this animal, something is different inside, something that tells it it’s okay to walk on alone.

As with people, there is a silent beauty and confidence in this individual’s ability to go it alone. Observers may see this animal as weak or as something to avoid, but for the loner, their journey requires a quiet strength that powers its ability to find peace and purpose, and perhaps even connect with God at a deep pursuant level. Most accurately, these loners are strong, independent, adventurous, reliable, and fully intent on pursuing some deeper meaning not found in the presence of others or in the inane conversations of an inane world.

Upon closer inspection, these independent souls are leaders in their own wonderful way – poised in their own purposes, and on a mission apart from the rest of the herd mind. Their independence the sign of a castoff to observes from the crow, which wonders “what is wrong” with that one, ridiculed in other’s misunderstanding of them. But their purpose is greater as an individual than as part of a herd, or part of a collection of other minds.

The independent interloper here (was Tibbs) rarely cared for the crowd. Though elderly and physically weak, he sought his own pastures, no matter the time of day, light or dark. When the herd left, he stayed. When the other horses went east, he went south to a favorite green patch. At feeding time, he cared not for the circus created by the others. His independence brought him into a protective relationship with his human caretakers. When the other horses descended on the feeding grounds, he came too, but he slipped straight to the front, out of the way, and the waiting open gate where he became securely tucked away in a safe and warm space with as much grain as he could handle – without the cajoling and caring-on of the others in their endless pursuit for power and position.

Not Tibbs. Most times, he stood apart from the herd though he was always a part of it. His independence allowed him to see through the noise and chaos created by the crowd that so many of us get caught in while we forget our passions and God-called pursuits. While the rest of the herd fight and kick for a portion of their daily, this lone little one procured more because of his willingness to strike out and stand on his own than the others could ever achieve through all their fights.

Tibbs always had other plans. Strong, independent plans. Plans that set him apart, even as he remained a part.

Rest in peace, friend. You’re greatly missed, and forever loved!     

The Test (or, Moving Wet Hay)

About the only thing we had going for us was that it wasn’t snowing, but that actually might have been better than what we faced. In fact, it was quite warm, for December, with steady wind. A lashing rain had just subsided ad now it just a few sprinkles. But the ground and about everything under this side of weather was soaked.

That’s one of the things that’s hard to really determine before you come to a place: the weather. You can research all you like about how much rain falls per year (Ripley receives about 53 inches of precipitation per year), but how it falls – when and how — is entirely different than the sum total. We lived in Oregon for a bit, taking note of the annual rainfall there compared to where we lived previously in Florida.

Here, during the wet winter months, the ground turns to grease. The top two or three inches of soil is slick and tar-like atop a thick, dense clay that can’t absorb the water. The result is that as waters accumulate – rain, melted snow – it soaks the top soil, but with nowhere to go, it pools and runs off to the lowest spot around. Brooks, springs and small streams flow everywhere. Flash floods are common because of it.

Stepping into the muck is obviously slippery. Depending on the boots you’re wearing, you may slide several inches or end up on your back side. The slush lasts from around the middle of November through March. I often joke that we need snowshoes to get through the muck. Nonetheless, getting around in swamp-like conditions for several months a year can be a challenging task.

Now, try pushing a 500-pound round bail about two hundred yards through the muck, in the rain. But we had hay to deliver and the tractor was down again. This time, the start was out. Before that, the radiator blew a hole; a flat tire; and the clutch. We thought about pushing the bail with the truck, but feared it would become bound up in the mud. So, we used our God-given leg, back and arm muscles.

Normally, moving a round bail is fairly simple. When it’s soaked through, add a couple extra hundred pounds of dead weight and you’re in for a workout. From the go, the work was arduous. About 50 yards in, my arms were weak and my legs on fire. A few quick breathers and we kept moving, cold, wet and burning.

As Kristina knows well, I struggle when things don’t go as planned. When overwhelmed, I can get whiny and short-tempered. I’m working on it through prayer, conversations with God and cool-down exercises. It was about this point that the switch in my head flipped to hot red and I began to sincerely question why we were doing this and if our exhausting work mattered.

In this case, our effort was vital. Two newly acquired starving horses (Faith and Grace) needed the meal and the calvary wasn’t coming to save the day. The required effort was on us.

Before I could begin to grumble, but after my mood soured, a still, small voice seemed to rattle my thoughts. A light hum escalated into thoughts that sounded like mine but not in my own voice:

“Scott, this has to be done. Yes, it’s uncomfortable, wet, the ground is sloppy and the load heavy, but it’s on you and Kristina to get this done. You know that. You’re here doing it and you know it’s important. The choice is yours how the work gets done, and how you will remember the way you responded to this adversity. Are you going to complain, whine, yell or scream, say something you’ll regret, or are you going to serve God (Me) through this work with a grateful and full heart, knowing you are changing lives? This is all temporary. The pain, the wet clothes, the grease-like ground. Days, months and years from now, you will remember this moment – Kristina will remember your leadership in this moment – will you be ashamed of yourself or proud? It’s your choice. You get to decide right now.”

I decided. I closed my mind to the anger and frustration that brewed. Looking at my beautiful, serving wife, I wanted nothing more than to impress her and the Lord with my work, no matter how tired I became or how many times I slipped and how much hay I wore.

What mattered is that the work got done, the starving ended and humility bubbling through me suppressed frustration that I have too often let take root.

What matters is how I serve, how I respond and how my actions are a reflection of Jesus in me.

Real-World Math

On the ranch, you do a lot of counting. More than you might expect. Every day, always.

Horses. One, two, three … ten.

Ducks: Two, four, six, eight, ten, er – wait, nine.

Steps – to the barn, and back.

Water pales to be filled. Feed pans empty.

Broken fence wires needing repair (stupid deer!).

Hay bales moved.

Feed bins to fill.

Dollars and dimes ($1,237 on feed this month?!?!?) spent.

Weeks building this and fixing that.

Degrees until freezing. Days without rain.

Minutes of light left in an un-electrified barn.

Days, months, years passed – how quickly?

Time left.

Lives saved. Lives lost.

Moments spent, breaths taken.

Prayers said. Blessings received.

Counting, continuous counting. Addition and subtraction, multiplication and division.

Numbers that matter.

You know, real-world math.

But when the figures don’t add up right or the “figurin’” is off, so is something in your soul.

None of the numbers remain static. They are ever-changing; sometimes that’s progress – like when there’s 35 fewer fence posts to place or there is one less stall to build. However, when the numbers don’t add up, the smallest amount of anxiety bubbles up from the stomach, past the heart and into the throat.

When the head count is off, there’s a stop in your step and a catch in your throat — when you’re short one in the herd because a horse is tucked in the trees or over the little rise and out of sight, or when the ducks waddle impatiently with the fury that only ducks can muster and the count of each is near impossible to come by. The feeling, until the problem is solved, is much like the frustration that comes from being a penny or two off in your checkbook.

Then, sweet relief when the “lost” is found or all are present and accounted for. In these instances, it’s easy to understand the parable Jesus told about how, in heaven, there’s more joy and celebration over the one lost soul that’s been saved than for the 99 already righteous.

Once the figures are laid straight and the real-world math complete and all accounts settled, then, for a few minutes, the counting can cease. But that’s a short-lived peace. Because the counting always continues.

Shadrach: Gold Shines Through

Shad soaking in the sun

Don’t most of us appear as dross instead of gold? The impurities within us cloud and distort our glimmer and glean. In so many ways the pollutants rise to our tops and expose it within and throughout our lives, often in ugly and arrogant ways. Hurting people hurt people, Kristina often says.

In horses, things are a bit different.

Often we’ll see what should otherwise be a healthy, confident, and full-bodied animal drawn in on themselves, removed and alone, intent more on their own survival (or recovering from fears of losing their lives because of some unspeakable tragedy at human hands) than becoming one with the herd and the others around.

Shadrach was such an animal. Gold buried beneath the surface. The dross covered much of him, but gold flows through him even more so now than when he first landed here.

A gelded colt of about three years, Shad came from a kill pen in Texas. Though the several-hundred-mile trip was likely hard on him, he faced certain death in his native land.

From the trailer he came with an arrogance deserving of a prize horse in far better shape. It’s no exaggeration to say that he was the worst conditioned of any horse neither Kristina nor I had ever seen.

Flesh and bone would be a generous description; Shad had no meat on his thighs, his spine crested about two inches higher than his descending ribs – all of which were clearly visible – his hips fully exposed, but worst of all, his anus receded into his body four or five inches.

He was death walking. A trailer mate, Meshack, was in slightly better shape, but his internal organ damage was too much to sustain him and he succumbed to his previous torture about a week after receiving freedom here.

Shad’s bravado likely kept him alive — it’s about all he arrived with. His bull-headed “I have arrived” trot-about expressed clear intolerance for all human kind — except when the grain came out – and he side-eyed us as we lay out the rounds of hay (more than he could ever eat in a day). But there always seemed a darkness surrounding him — a concern or distrust. a drossy weariness.

Shad days after arrival

As the weeks disappeared, eventually and slowly more of the darkness that possessed his soul seemed to boil out, the dross rising to the top as the gold emerged. Along with his weight gain, he grew in spirit, peace and confidence (if it was possible to be anymore confident of himself).

While this took place, Shad began to show another side to his complexity. During Shad’s trip to the ranch — home — he bonded with a blind horse on the same trailer that was headed to a kill pen in Alabama. We bought her (Abednago) off the truck.

Once two or more horses share a trip on the trailer, they quickly bond. There’s something about the road and tight spaces that bring these creatures together.

Shad and Bedna are a pair now, long after their arrival, another sign of the gold that lies within Shad’s heart. He is now Bedna’s eyes. He quickly determined that Bedna was vulnerable. Blind in a new place with new humans, strange surroundings, and a herd of set-in-their-way horses to navigate, so the two stuck close.

He being her eyes, she being his friend — something both desperately needed among their strange and fresh lives. They remain a pair, one dross-removing, gold-revealing day at a time.

Now, the former skeleton horse is full bodied, alive, warm and peaceable. He still possesses the confident trot-about, but has added a spring in his step and a warm cockiness to his prance. His high-headed, mane-in-the-wind side-eyed “you’re not going to catch me now” prance as he ever dances about in pursuit of the endless buffet of fresh grass and grain that he’s found here is pure gold – even on the days we’re still scraping off the dross.

More days now than not, Shad seems to shine. While he might not admit it if you asked him, every sign points to a creature full of hope that’s found friendship and maybe yet will come to love the humans that love him.

Even so, if you look at him just so, you might see a bit of his gold since through.

The First 18 Months of Love and Joy On the Ranch

This video highlights some of the most joyful, loving moments captured on the ranch during its first 18 months. Lots of smiles, countless blessings, many prayers, and mountains of hope were shared! God is so good! If you know of anyone who might benefit from this video, please consider sharing!.

Many blessings,

The ranch

A special thank you to Imaginary Future for permission to use this song, “We Are the Love We Give,” in this video!

Faith Is …

Faith (left) and Grace

Faith’s eye exploded but she probably didn’t know, except for the pain that a ruptured eye must cause.

The eye – her right – was already gone. The dull smoke-gray orb did little more than indicate where sight once was but had long since gone.

The weeping organ washed her cheek so that it was soaked with discharge, but despite blinking it closed and wincing as it shut, she carried on as she always had – eating, seeking new things to eat and ensuring she wasn’t left too far from her bonded pasture mate, Grace.

The two horses came together. Faith, a short, fiery and explosively fast quarter horse, Grace a giant slow but overly sympathetic and love-filled clumsy draft horse. They met in a shared stall at the Gleason, Tennessee, livestock auction the week before Christmas 2021. Both were several hundred pounds underweight, sickly and weak. Their skin hung from their bones, which were plainly visible, yet their hair moved and wavered because of lice, which are usually unable to take ownership of an otherwise healthy animal.

Neither were strong, but scared and likely sure of their death. The late-night trek to the ranch on a two-hour ride maybe too much for either, but they had no choice (neither did we if we wanted them to live) and, without being dramatic, they were short-timers otherwise on this side of heaven. But the Lord had other plans.

Where Grace is docile and warm, Faith is everything but. Faith is fire, Grace is warm. Faith is short-tempered, Grace even-keeled. Faith is fast, unbelievably so, while Grace lumbers and runs stilt-legged on rear hips that seem uneven and misaligned.

Grace is sighted and confident. She is content and glad to live – she often attempts to do so in the rear pocket of any of us who enter into the barn.

Faith is half blind and was half confident. But Faith also is all survivor.

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Angel Arriving

Once you’ve bought a horse, you’re marked. Branded. Like Chuck Connors in his short-lived follow-up series to “The Rifleman.” Bait on a hook lowered to a pit of starving alligators.Such was the case when Kristina informed me that she had her heart set on the horse soon-to-be-known as Angel. A red-coated mare with flaxen mane and tail, she’s a beauty unlike most, Kristina said. She and her herd mate lived in deplorable living conditions in an unkempt, unmanned field where the only housing included a falling-down barn. A stagnant pond was their only water source—all of this alongside a heavily traveled state highway on the way to Brownsville, opposite of Ripley.

After weeks of watching and yearning and quite a bit of research, Kristina found the horse’s owner and made the call: “were they for sale,” she asked?

“Of course, everything’s for sale at the right price!” came the response.

“How much?”

Too much.

“The horse you like,” the owner said, “is a registered Tennessee walker!”

Like that mattered (it didn’t). Kristina wanted these two creatures for the sake of bringing them from their horrid conditions. In the rescue/sanctuary world, papers and prestige don’t matter.

The price remained high — too high for my liking. But Kristina persisted, “Let’s go look at them.”

The place they called home was worse than it appeared from the road. Broken, jagged fencing kept them contained. Weeds were their lunch and dinner; the water from the stagnant pond hidden behind what might have once been an impressive barn. The barely upright pile of wood almost too thin and fragile for any weather protection except clear, star-filled nights.

Both of the animals were scared of people. Neither had much human contact. Angel’s herd mate, another mare affectionately named “And,” attempted to kick me during our first meeting — she missed only by inches. “She has a history of doing that,” her owner said with a shrug of his shoulder. (The thought of it still frightens me as it was powerful and undeserved.)

“She’s a show horse,” Angel’s owner beamed proudly while the other tried to kick me.

“We can see why,” we said, unimpressed. “But the price.”

So, we left. The price for the two was too high, and we couldn’t separate them. Kristina, undeterred, kept visiting the horses, praying that they’d make it home.

Every time we passed them on the road, she’d check their condition and make sure they were okay. She yearned for them — she admitted that she wanted them badly. So, we continued to negotiate. The horse’s owners balked and didn’t budge until one day, they finally did.

That settled, they needed to come to the ranch ASAP. Like tomorrow! But blood work is required to transport horses, so we had to wait some more. A horse infected with Coggins can destroy a herd. While it’s not immediately fatal, Coggins is a chronic blood disease, and once it’s on the property, your ranch can become a pariah.

So, we waited impatiently for the horses to be cleared and to arrive. They were only about five miles from their new home, but the time it took to clear them made it seem as if they were on the other side of the globe.

But their coming here wasn’t meant to be. Another call from the owners with devastating news. And, the horse that tried to kick me got herself killed. Caught up in the barn, she attempted to kick through the wood wall. Tangled up, she compound-fractured her leg, so the owner shot her.

Silence followed by devastation. Kristina was beside herself with grief. Then tears and weeping, and grief. We should have, could have, done more, she said! We shouldn’t have waited so long. Now the horse is dead.

Kristina said she had so much potential and promise; she could have helped so many children. She could have, I agreed. Would have. But that wasn’t God’s plan for her.

Despite our delays and negotiations, there was little we could have done for her. Perhaps it was something more. Perhaps God kept her from something that could have happened down the road. Maybe she, with her history of kicking, might have hurt someone.

Even though she was dead, Lady, the red mare with flaxen hair, still needed rescuing. Despite the loss of her pasture mate and our shock, she was still on the way. Soon, she would be ours.

When Angel, formerly known as Lady, arrived, the fear she wore was palatable. Her eyes were large and full orbs, wondering if this road led to an end or a beginning. While she had no way of knowing that the path that she fearfully walked brought her to safe and love-filled place.

From the start, Kristina made sure that her life in no way resembled her past. Angel quickly became part of a family with people and horse mates. The exchange of her lead rope from her previous owner to Kristina’s hand more significant in ways we might still not be able to comprehend.

Since she arrived, she’s proven to be one of the most beautiful horses we’ve ever seen, in nature and nurture. She’s also one of the most sensitive and sweet animals we’ve ever been in the presence of. She aims to please in all she does. When she moves her feet, she does so willingly even if she doesn’t know where you want them moved – she’ll just move them to make sure she’s doing what you ask.

When she’s excited and happy or curious about some sort of movement or action from one of her new herd or her people, she flares her nostrils and exhales loudly, in the sweetest way. In the beginning, we thought she might have been wind broke, but that’s just one of her more endearing qualities.

When she moves, she prances with grace and pride in one of the most elegant and magnificent movements on the south side of heaven. In full cantor, her tail lifts like a flag, and her legs prance in coordinated synchronization. She’s a true gift from the Lord above, and as her name suggests, she’s an angel here on earth.

But as for being branded, it’s a mark that doesn’t seem to fade. Texts, instant messages, and phone calls regularly pop up asking if we’re available to take on someone’s broken down, elderly or unrideable horse. For the most part, our answer is the same: “Your” horse has you; we rescue and save those that don’t have anyone else.

In the case of Angel (we tried with And), though she was “owned,” she wasn’t receiving regular care; her living conditions were not much better than blight.

Regardless of how often we tell people we simply can’t let them dump their horses on us because they don’t “want them anymore,” the calls still come. We’re branded, after all.

So, it shouldn’t have surprised me when the phone rang one recent afternoon. Not recognizing the number but seeing that it was local, I answered. Instantly I recognized the voice: “You need any horses?”



Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020, six days before Christmas. The Christmas animal auction, a west Tennessee annual tradition in Gleason. Tack, tchotchkes, goats and their kids, ducks and geese, ponies, and horses (lame, sound, in various stages of injury).

The day wet and cold, inside the auction barn little better — warmth coming only from brought blankets and cheap coffee from the concession stand. Filled to capacity, the hours-long parade of junk and lives for sale to the highest bidder began at mid-day and wasn’t complete until well past dark. The damp, humid, cold-in-your-bones air not an ideal indicator of the coming Christmas holiday.

The sale kicked off with a heap of cheap Chinese junk (from household items to toys and other novelties). We stumbled about, attempting to find our bearings, watching others navigate the tight lanes of bleachers, Amish baked goods, and wranglers working the crowd. Excited to experience the entirety of the landscape before us, we slipped to the back of the building, to the holding stalls where animals were kept.

Through the sliding wooden door, we immediately met the scent of sour manure, stale (even sick) cold air, and the restlessness of countless livestock pacing from fear and nervousness from the hundreds of human eyes and thousands of prodding fingers examining their worth, quality and well-being.

Having spent years of my youth in farmland in rural South Dakota, I know that life in and around livestock is not always pleasant. It’s rarely clean, overly glossed by the city-based publications that tout “fresh from the farm” and “farm fresh” trademarks to their unaware urbanites who don’t often wonder about the origin of their pork chops and cheeseburgers. The truth is far dirtier and usually much darker than most people would prefer or dare to contemplate.

Many of the animals at events such as these are here to move. Their owners seeking a new opportunity or fresh start, a way to discard a troubled animal, and an outlet for their home-breeding programs (think goats, ducks and other fowl, and rabbits); some of the owners want quick cash during challenging times. A Christmas sale might provide needed cash for gifts beneath the tree. The lives sold in these barns are business. Their worth subjective. Their futures long for some, more pleasant for others.

In many cases, the animals here are meat, including the horses. The animals here, by and large, particularly the horses and other equine, are not among the highest quality, at least in their present state.

Making our way through the isles of stalls, we encounter spinning horses with ears pinned and eyes white; mules and donkeys pulled with great effort and might into box stalls; shivering kids (baby goats) not yet weaned and too young for sale; squawking, flightless birds; and, in one case, a once thick red Dunn mare standing aloofly at attention, her eyes soft, her ribs showing slightly through her hide, but peaceful and unassuming.

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